The Grey Cup—and football— are strictly for the birds
FRANK FREDRICKSON SAYSNovember211959
The Grey Cup—and football— are strictly for the birds
For the sake of argument
FRANK FREDRICKSON SAYS
When Ronnie Knox, the brilliant if sometimes erratic young quarterback who was being paid $1.250 a game by Toronto Argonauts. suddenly announced one day this fall that he was quitting football for keeps he took the opportunity to deliver a scathing indictment of
"I just had enough of the game,” he said. "Money isn't everything.
I've been playing for thirteen years now and I'm sick to the teeth of it. It s a game for animals and I like to think I'm above that. The better things in life interest me more."
If. when he said this, young Ronnie had cocked a keen ear toward the west he might have heard another voice — mine — crying in
the same wilderness. No. not cry-
mg but letting loose with a re-
“It’s mob hysteria”
I have long been convinced that Canadian footba.ll has become the most over-publicized, most over-
rated, and most over - attended game this country has ever known.
It may not be. as Ronnie claims, a game for animals but obviously
it is not one that brings out the best in humans, be they players or spectators. It is a game that puts
a premium on brute strength and
even encourages brutality. It is
certainly not the thinking man's sport.
I’ll readily concede that football does have its own merits as a game and has a rightful place in Canadian sports. And. it goes without
saying, football fans have a right to be football fans.
But I do most emphatically contend that as a game to watch and play, football is not in the same class as. say. hockey or soccer.
Its present phenomenal popularity is undeserved and the supercharged emotionalism — let’s be frank: the mob hysteria — that surrounds the game is actually un-
natural and unwholesome.
Not for a moment am I advocating that we ban the game. Every man to his taste. Rather, I believe we should begin to grow up. assume a mature attitude toward it, and de-emphasize it.
What we forget, or overlook, is that football as we know it today is a professional sports promotion, not a cause célèbre, a crusade, or even simply a game. All the platitudes extolling its value in character building and creating civic pride are mainly window-dressing. The Grey Cup is sheer turnstile bait, not the Holy Grail.
Football has become a hybrid monster: part sport and part show business and with a slight case of assault and battery thrown in to bring out the beast that lurks inside us all.
if it ever were stripped of all its trappings — the bands and ballyhoo. the parades and pretty cheerleaders, the fanfare and false glamour — it would quickly revert to its proper place in the scheme of sport. Once again it would be just another team game, attracting, in each city, only those few thousand fans who thoroughly understand it and enjoy it as a sport, not as a spectacle.
On November 28, the champions of East and West will meet in Exhibition Stadium, Toronto, to play for the Grey Cup and once again we'll be plunged into a weekend of national madness.
Many city councils throughout the land will help finance the promotion of the game — and the emotional orgy that has become a part of it — by entering civic floats in the Grey Cup parade.
As I write, the matter has yet to come before Vancouver's city council, but 1 will say right now that, as an alderman. I will oppose any move to spend the taxpayers' money in this wasteful manner.
The Grey Cup parade has only one purpose:
continued on page 65
FRANK FREDRICKSON, A FORMER HOCKEY GREAT, IS A VANCOUVER ALDERMAN
Continued from page 8
to fire interest in the game and thus boost ticket sales, not only this year but next; it should be financed by the promoters, not by the public.
Can't you hear Barnum chuckling in his tomb as the mayors of Canada lend themselves—and their tax-payers’ money —to the promotion of this three-ring circus?
If all the hokum and hullabaloo that surrounds football is over-done during the regular season what can we say about it at Grey Cup time, with its parade, its Miss Grey Cup beauty contest, its trainand plane-loads of boisterous rooters, its full-scale invasion of the front pages, not to mention the hooliganism it seems to incite.
Twice the Grey Cup game has been played in Vancouver—in 1955 and 1958 —and twice we have seen astonishing displays of public drunkenness, hoodlumism and vandalism.
In 1955, great mobs of forty or fifty thousand people took over downtown Vancouver on the two nights preceding the day of the game and staged riotous all-night parties.
Teen-agers caroused through the streets, drinking openly from beer bottles and taunting the police. A visitor from Toronto sloshed through a hotel lobby strewn with broken liquor bottles and spotted with puddles of whisky and remarked. in disgust: “There is more
drunkenness in this lobby per square foot than I've ever seen anywhere before."
“Someone could be killed”
So potentially dangerous did the celebration become that the chairman of the Grey Cup reception committee told the press, “I’m scared stiff. Someone could be killed. It’s an ugly situation.” Indeed, it was ugly. In 1958, someone threw a mattress from a hotel window; it struck a woman passer-by and seriously injured her.
I'm not recounting all this to prove that the majority of football fans are drunkards or hooligans, because they are not, but only to underline my appeal for a return to sanity in this sport.
We have lost our heads, our sense of proportion. Let's regain them both. Let's quit using this sport as an excuse to abandon all our inhibitions. Let's take the hokum out of football before it does degenerate into a game for animals.
Of what value to the development of young people, of athletics, of good citizenship, and of Canadianism generally is this Roman circus that revolves around the Grey Cup?
Couldn't the acres of newspaper space that is lavished on this game—the women's pages even take us into the kitchen to see the little wife whipping up a mess of spaghetti for the big star — couldn’t this space be used to better advantage in informing us about what goes on in the world around us?
I'm not opposed to professionalism in sport. I was, in fact, for many years a professional hockey player myself. But I am opposed to fanatical hero worship and the over-publicizing of professional sport.
Frankly. 1 doubt that Canadian football contributes anything to the promotion of real sportsmanship. Take, for instance. the manner in which the coach of a losing team is hounded by press and public. In 1958 when the B. C. Lions were unable to win under Clem Crowe the whole of Vancouver was chanting. "Crowe must go." There is nothing wrong, I suppose, in firing an unsuccessful coach, providing he has been given a fair trial, but is it good sportsmanship to humiliate a man publicly as Crowe w'as humiliated?
During the Crowe affair everyone in Vancouver talked as though he (or she) knew more about football than Crowe could ever hope to know. Even those who wouldn't know' a football if they found one in a bowl of soup were second-guessing him blind.
I ll wager that ninety percent of those who attend Canadian football games really don't understand any of the fine points of the game. They go because it is the thing to do. because everyone else is going. It's a social event and they. too. want to be in the swim.
The drinking that goes on at a football game would seem to substantiate my claim that to many it's more of a social than a sports event.
When the football season began in Vancouver this fall the chief of police felt called upon to issue a stern warning that drinking at the games would not he tolerated. But. at the same time, the police admitted they were baffled by the surreptitious methods used by the drinkers.
"We've heard of hypodermic needles being used to inject oranges with gin.
thermos bottles filled with hot rum. and even flasks that are shaped like binoculars," complained one frustrated policeman.
Is that what they mean when they speak of character building?
We all know that one of the pleasures of following any sport is not just watching the game itself but talking about it later. We all like to appear to be experts in our favorite sport. But football fans carry even this innocent pleasure to obnoxious extremes. There is no longer any such animal as the Monday morning
quarterback. We are now imposed upon by the Monday-through-Sunday quarterback who doesn’t stop talking about last night’s game until the next one is played.
So much for football fanfare and football fans. What of the game itself? In Canadian football the emphasis is overwhelmingly on the side of brawn, not brain, while in hockey and soccer mental and physical agility are superbly combined.
The size of a man counts for more in football than in any other sport. The little man hasn't a chance. The linemen
are usually giants and the backfielders appear to be small only in comparison.
In hockey and soccer it is an asset to be big. but it is not decisive. Take, for instance, one of our greatest hockey players. Aurel Joliat. who never weighed more than one hundred and thirty-five pounds and yet was a super-star with Montreal Canadiens. His famous linemate. Howie Morenz, was also a small man. And in soccer we can cite Stanley Matthews, one of England’s finest players. who is certainly no giant.
One of my favorite football stories
touching on this point concerns the American college coach who, every spring, would drive through the countryside in search of talent. Whenever he saw a young man behind a plow he’d stop and ask him for directions. If the youth pointed the way with his finger, the coadh would simply drive on. But if he picked up the plow and pointed with it, then the coach would sign him lo a football contract. It’s not what you know, it’s how strong you are.
This emphasis on brawn and brute strength leads inevitably to at least a measure of brutality. In no other sport is there such a marked tendency to injure a key player on the opposing team — or at least to reduce his effectiveness by physical assault — as there is in football.
Another complaint I have about football is that the player is required to do very little of his own thinking, this chore being assumed for him by the coach and. to some extent, by the quarterback. In most team sports it is the great opportunist, the man who can instantly take advantage of an unforeseen situation, who is the great star. But, in the regimented game of football where the play is coldly pre-determined before the ball is snapped, the player seldom has the opportunity to act on his own initiative.
In football, a big man runs with a big ball tucked firmly under one arm and nine times out of ten, all that happens is that he’s knocked down, other men pile on top of him; they’re then sorted out — and so it begins all over again.
“No one sees the ball”
Compare this with hockey where, first of all, the player has to be a fine skater and then must master the difficult art of carrying a puck, of stickhandling. Once the puck is dropped, there is continuous mental and physical action. The player must think for himself with lightning speed. He must use all his faculties not only to control his own actions as an individual but to co-ordinate them with the ever-changing positions and actions of his team-mates. No mathematical pattern has been set in advance and drilled into him. With slight variations the same things might be said of the soccer player.
Because of their continuous, skilful action, soccer and hockey. I believe, are really more pleasing to watch, as well as to play, than the painfully ponderous game of Canadian football.
Football is the only game in the world, except hide-the-button, in which the object of play, the ball, is hidden a good deal of the time.
One of the high moments in football comes when a player breaks clear on a touchdowm run. I am always amazed that even after he has shaken off the last opposing player, and has nothing between himself and the goal-line, the crow'd will shriek hysterically as he races downfield. Why? Wasn’t the climax reached and passed when he beat the last defender? What is so exciting in the spectacle of a man running down a field with no one to outwit and beat? How can this compare with hockey or soccer when the moment of climax doesn't come until the last split second when the attacker and goal-tender come face to face?
When Ronnie Knox let loose his blast at football. Lew Hayman, managing director of the Toronto Argonauts, brushed it off by saying, "He’s a pretty mixedup kid." In the lull before the Grey Cup storm, I'd like to suggest that the promoters and followers of football calmly consider who really are the mixed-up kids in the hysterical world of professional football, ic
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